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How Steelers survived a bad QB day

1/24/2011

As was the case with the NFC Championship, the winning quarterback in the AFC title game didn’t have one of his better statistical efforts. But, as has been the case with Ben Roethlisberger previously, the Pittsburgh Steelers found a way to win anyway, beating the New York Jets, 24-19.

The Steelers advanced to their eighth Super Bowl, matching the Dallas Cowboys for most appearances in NFL history.

No. 1 Defense vs No. 2 Defense
By Yardage (Super Bowl History)

This will be the fourth Super Bowl in which the team that gave up the fewest points in pro football's regular season (Steelers) faces the team that gave up the second-fewest points (Packers).

Roethlisberger finished with a passer rating of 35.5, the second-lowest in his postseason career. Yet, he’s won his three worst games in terms of passer rating, beating the Jets twice and the Seahawks, when he posted a 22.6 in Super Bowl XL.

Roethlisberger is 10-2 career in postseason starts. His .833 win percentage ranks second all-time, behind only Bart Starr, who went 9-1.

This was the second time since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 that the winning teams in each conference championship game did not throw a touchdown pass. The only other previous occurrence was in 1980 (both the Raiders and Eagles won without throwing one).

Rashard Mendenhall

MendenhallRoethlisberger didn’t need to throw one, partly because running back Rashard Mendenhall was so good. Mendenhall recorded the 15th 100-yard rushing game in Steelers playoff history and joined Franco Harris, Merril Hoge and Willie Parker as Steelers who had 120 rushing yards and a touchdown in a postseason game.

Mendenhall exploited the right side of the Jets defense. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry and got four first downs on his 13 rushes to the right side, against a Jets defense that allowed 3.9 yards per run to the right during the regular season.

The Steelers also won on the strength of a defense that completely shut the Jets down in the first half. Among the standouts was LaMarr Woodley, who got his 10th career postseason sack. It took Woodley only six games to get 10 sacks, the fewest games needed to reach that plateau since sacks became official in 1982.

Roethlisberger did well with one thing. Our video review showed that he pump-faked on five plays against the Jets. The Steelers averaged 9.2 yards on those five plays and converted first downs four times. Only two of the five plays were pass attempts (2-for-2, 21 yards) as Roethlisberger pump-faked to extend the play and scrambled twice for first downs (a run of 12 yards on 3rd-and-12, and a five-yard run on 3rd-and-4).

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is the second coach in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl twice in his first four seasons as head coach. Joe Gibbs is the other (he took the Redskins to Super Bowl XVII in second season and Super Bowl XVIII in his third season). Tomlin could become first coach to win two Super Bowls in his first four seasons (Gibbs and the Redskins lost Super Bowl XVIII).

This was the third time since the NFL-AFL merger that both conference championship games were decided by seven points or fewer. The other two were in 1987 (Redskins won by seven, Broncos won by five) and 2001 (Patriots won by seven, Rams won by five).

For the Jets, as it always is, it’s a case of wait ‘til next year. The Jets are 0-4 in AFC Championship Games, which according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is the worst record of any team in conference championship play, surpassing the 0-3 Cleveland Browns. The Jets and Browns are the last two AFC teams to lose consecutive conference championships.